HC Deb 13 May 1830 vol 24 cc682-96
Mr. Slaney

, in bringing forward, pursuant to notice, his Motion for a Select Committee to consider the means of lessening the evils arising from the Fluctuation of Employment amongst manufacturer, said, he should have been much surprised at the thinness of attendance, if he were not aware of the character of the House. He knew the subject was not a pleasant one, and he must throw himself on its indulgence while he went into some details. If they looked to the humble portion of their fellow-countrymen, they would see them divided into large classes—both distinct from each other, and both in their present situation demanding the attention of the Legislature. The first of those, the agricultural class was affected by circumstances entirely distinct from the circumstances which affected the second; and the agricultural labourers of the south were in quite a different situation from those of the north of England. Incidentally he might observe, that the people of the south were some time since in a worse situation than at present; and he hoped they would speedily improve, and be in as good a condition as their brethren of the north. Before he should proceed to consider the situation of the other great class, the manufacturers, he begged to say that he feared there existed, with respect to them, some prejudice, some fear, lest the manufacturing class might be extending too far; but if those who indulged such a prejudice would only allow themselves to take a large and liberal view of the interests of society, they must perceive that the interests of both classes were closely united—that they were inseparable, and that the advancement of one must always depend upon the success of the other. For the purpose of establishing some of the positions for which he contended, it would be necessary for him to enter somewhat into detail. He should begin by calling the attention of the House to the relative amount of the agricultural and manufacturing population at different periods, and in different parts of the kingdom. In 1801, the manufacturing population was to the agricultural as six to five; in 1821, as eight to five; but in 1830, they became as two to one; thus, in England, the difference was at one period as two to one, and at another as six to five. In Scotland in 1808, they were as five to six; in 1821, as nine to six; in 1830, as two to one. During the last twenty years, the population of the country generally had increased thirty per cent. the manufacturing population forty per cent. In Manchester the population had increased fifty per cent; Liverpool fifty per cent, and Coventry the same; Leeds fifty-four per cent; Birmingham fifty per cent, and Glasgow 100 per cent. That was an increase equal to what might be found on the most recent settlements and the richest soils of North America. As the population had increased thirty per cent, and as the people generally were better off than formerly, so there was reason to believe that the capital of the country had increased at least thirty per cent. As an evidence of the extent to which trade and manufactures were carried, he would remind the House, that while the average annual importation of cotton in 1813 amounted to 79,000,000 pounds, in 1829 it amounted to 220,000,000 pounds. The importation of wool in 1813 was 7,000,000 pounds, and in 1829 it was 27,500,000 pounds. During that time the increase of machinery had been without example. Great as was his sense of the services of the noble Duke who had conducted the military operations of the country, still, if he were asked to name the person to whom England was most indebted in bearing up against nearly all Europe, he should say that James Watt was that person. The suggestions of Watt in the use of steam had been productive of incalculable benefit to the country. In 1814 we had eleven steam vessels, and the number of tons was 542; in 1828, we had 338 steam-vessels, and the number of tons was 30,000. Thus, in the space of fourteen years, the steam-vessels had increased thirty-fold in number, and sixty-fold in tonnage. Another fact connected with the manufacturers was, that a very large portion of them were unrepresented in that House, and this gave them a strong claim on the attention of Parliament. He hoped, however, that the motion of which the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had given notice, might have the effect of relieving them from that disadvantage. It was not so much the depression of trade which he meant to bring before the House as the occasional fluctuations to which manufacturers were exposed—fluctuations which at one time, by raising the price of their labour, led them to riot and extravagance, and at another, by greatly depressing it, led to want and to crime. It became the more necessary to consider the situation of the manufacturers at present, because, till within a few years, this country had enjoyed almost a monopoly of the trade of the world, though now, owing to a combination of circumstances, it was gradually losing that. This monopoly was nothing more than a monopoly springing from the freedom of the country, which had promoted the growth of industry, and everything connected with industry, more than any other circumstance. We now had opposite to our shores two great countries, which were in most respects copying our institutions, and in which manufactures were greatly encouraged and protected. He did not state this as a reason for jealousy, but for the purpose of showing what necessity there was for this country being alive to its situation. The fluctuation of the employment of our manufacturers arose from two or three causes. One of the causes was the vast improvement in machinery; not that he intended to say that this would not finally benefit the manufacturing labourers, but, at all events, at present it was acting to their injury. To show this he might state, that the number of hand-looms now was much the same as it was in 1820, being about 240,000 in England and Scotland; but during this period power-looms had been greatly on the increase. In 1820 the number was 14,000, while now it amounted to 55,000. Each power-loom might be calculated as about equal to three hand-looms. The number of power-looms in 1820, therefore, might be calculated as equal to 42,000 hand-looms, while the number now was equal to 165,000; so that, taking it in this point of view, there had been an increase since 1820 of 123,000 hand-looms. He did not state this as a matter of complaint, but only to show that labouring weavers must at present be suffering from the circumstance—for he might express his own opinions in the words of an eminent author on the subject, who had said, that machinery brings into exercise the intellectual power of man, while hand-labour only exercises the mere animal force;" and certainly one great advantage of machinery was, that it enabled women and children to take part in providing for the wants of the family. But besides this, an extraordinary change had taken place in the locality of many of our manufactures. Since steam-engines had been so much used, it had become the interest of the proprietors to fix their works where there were coal-pits. The woollen manufactures that had formerly abounded in the southern part of the country, had now found their way to the north. In addition to these reasons, fashion often made a great alteration. Cottons, for instance, had to a great extent displaced woollens; and linens and silks had changed places in the like manner; all which changes, of course, had been felt in some quarters. It had been stated, that the manufacturers of Worcester had been injured by the introduction of certain foreign goods which had formerly been prohibited. He, however, had had an opportunity of conversing with those who were intimately acquainted with the trade in that part of the country; and the reason given to him for the great depression there was, the change which had taken place in the fashion with respect to gloves. A few years ago, the general wear had been beaver gloves, which were manufactured out of sheep skins; but subsequently the whole demand had been for kid gloves, which were manufactured out of lamb, goat, or kid skins, chiefly imported from abroad. From returns which he held in his hand, it appeared, that in 1820, the manufacture had amounted to 182,000 dozen pairs of gloves; in 1825, the number was 430,000 dozen: in 1826, when the admission of foreign gloves first commenced, a slight decrease took place, the amount being only 389,000 dozen: in 1827, however, in spite of the importation, amounting to 56,000 dozen, the manufacture rose to 576,000 dozen: and in 1828 (the last return he had), in addition to an importation of 95,000 dozen, the gloves manufactured at home was 669,000 dozen pairs. It appeared, then, from these returns, that since the trade had been opened, the manufacture had greatly increased. An illustration of this change of fashion might be cited, in what probably some of the older Members of that House might remember—he meant the change from shoe-buckles to shoe-strings. At that time, the alteration was so much felt, that the Birmingham manufacturers remonstrated, but the complaint was wisely answered by observing, that if the Legislature prevented the use of shoe-strings, it would be injuring Coventry for the sake of Birmingham. Other changes, such as political and commercial changes, were also important and worthy of observation, inasmuch as they had a considerable effect upon the happiness of the manufacturing classes. In the years 1827–8, the export of cottons amounted to 17,500,000l.; of woollens, 5,250,000l.; and of hardware, 2,500,000l.; or 25,000,000l. altogether. Germany and the Netherlands alone took 4,200,000l. worth of cottons, and the United States 2,500,000l. He only mentioned this to show that the trade of this country was more vulnerable now than it had been formerly; and his argument was, that against such an attack upon the trade of the country the Government ought to provide, by affording the manufacturer every fair facility that was practicable with the general interests of the country. He did not mean that the Government should force any measures on the manufacturers, but it ought to facilitate to them the means of preventing fluctuation of employment. In touching upon this part of the subject he would take the practical example of Benefit Societies. The principle of those societies was, to insure their members against illness, old age, or any other natural contingency; and it was his intention to propose to the House the appointment of a Select Committee for the purpose of inquiring whether it was not practicable to extend the same privileges to the humbler classes of society, as a provision against other sorts of contingencies, which were no less continually occurring. To shew the number of persons exposed to these fluctuations he would refer to the cotton-trade. The returns of our cotton manufacturers showed more completely than any circumstance the triumph of freedom over mere natural advantages. In the case of cotton, the raw material was first brought over to this country from America, and, after having manufactured it, we were able to send it back again to its original country, and actually undersell the native manufacturers of that country at its own doors. The value of raw cotton imported into this country amounted to five millions sterling per annum; the manufactured article was worth fifty millions; and the quantity exported was worth nearly twenty millions, Now Manchester might be taken as the centre of that manufacture; and within a circle of thirty miles in diameter, with that town for the centre, there were about half a million of persons engaged in the cotton trade; and the rate at which they were paid showed that they were capable of insuring themselves against the changes which he had already pointed out. Of this half million, one-fifth (all of whom were men) earned 20s. a week; a second fifth, consisting of men and women, earned 12s. a week; a third fifth, 7s. a week; and a fourth fifth, 2s. 6d. a week; and these four-fifths among them supported the old and infirm, which constituted the last fifth. The whole of their wages was earned by piece-work, and paid in money. Scotland did about one-seventh of the whole of this manufacture, and the proportion performed by that country was continually on the increase. He had made inquiries upon the subject, and had been told that the habits of many of these persons were prudent as well as industrious; though there were others whose behaviour was different. He might also state, that the condition of these persons was better than it had been at the commencement of the present century; of course he did not speak to any particular moment of time, but on a general average of a certain number of years. Now all these persons, amounting to no less than half a million, had no funds for their support when they were thrown, by any unfortunate run of circumstances, out of employment. Next let the House look at the woollen trade, the export of which was five and a quarter millions. In this trade there were, within the district of Leeds, twenty thousand persons employed, and this number might be divided into three classes:—the weavers, who earned 14s. a week; the spinners, who earned 21s. a week; and the dressers, who earned 21s. a week. All these persons worked for twelve hours, on six days in the week, and were paid in money: the weavers and spinners by the day, and the others by the piece. Besides these, the women were able to earn 6s. a week, and the children a smaller sum, in proportion to their ages. But unfortunately, among these classes, the whole of their earnings were expended, and they had no fund to go to when they found themselves in distress from the want of work. He would then mention hardware; and in this trade the town of Birmingham was mainly engaged, which had often gone by the name of the toy-shop of Europe, and which might still claim that title. In that place the manufacturers worked ten hours in the day, and six days in the week, their labour being all done by the piece, and paid for in money: the working classes there, however, were very improvident, and seldom had any provision against a slackness in work. At Sheffield, where the finer sorts of cutlery were produced—such as table-knives, pen-knives, pocket-knives, scissors, razors, and files, with edged tools, &c.—a vast deal of ingenuity and sub-division of labour was effected. There were three sorts of workmen mainly employed, whose wages respectively were 25s., 20s., and 16s. With respect to Wolverhampton, where the manufactures were of a coarser sort, the Germans and the Flemings were already beginning to compete with the manufactures of that town, greatly to the disadvantage of its trade. The American tariff had likewise operated greatly to its disadvantage, and was very severely felt there. From what he had stated it would appear, that the wages of these classes were sufficient to enable them to lay by a provision against a want of work. What possible objection, then, could there be, to give facilities to them in that respect, by extending the privileges that already belonged to Benefit Societies? With this feeling he intended to propose the appointment of a committee, for the purpose of practically considering how far the principle of those societies could be extended. The clause in the 10 Geo. 4th, c. 56, which he would extend, was this: "It shall be lawful, by subscription or otherwise, to raise funds for the relief and maintenance in sickness, infancy, advanced age, or any other natural state or contingency whereof the occurrence is susceptible of calculation by way of average;" and this he proposed to extend to the contingency of occasional want of employment. He knew that objections would be made to the course which he was proposing, and that perhaps it would be said that such facilities would be used by the manufacturing classes for the purpose of combination, and of raising their wages. Now he had turned his particular attention to that point; and it seemed to him that such an objection might be greatly removed by certain rules and regulations to be recommended by the committee, The case, too, was very different since the Combination-laws had been removed. There were no Combination-laws now in force, except in cases of violence or intimidation. It had been given in evidence in the committee of which the hon. Member for Montrose was the Chairman, that the Combination-laws had always tended to increase combination; and it certainly was clear, that in proportion as funds were provided by which the manufacturing classes might be saved from distress, they would become more tractable. Two of the great causes which had formerly caused fluctuation in wages were now removed—the one was the alteration which had taken place in the currency, and the other the sudden changes in the price of food. With respect to this latter he might observe, that from the year 1795 to 1820, the variations in the price of corn were so great, that in one year it was frequently three times as dear as it had been in the preceding year, and then, in the course of the next year, the fall was as sudden; and as corn was one of the chief articles of consumption to the manufacturer, the consequence of this was, that the same wages would not always procure the same articles of comfort and support. But now no such fluctuations were likely to take place in the price of corn, and therefore there was no danger of the manufacturer suffering in that way. By some of the trades of London the insurance system was carried to a state of great perfection. This was the case with the tailors in particular; among whom it was so managed, that when they were out of work, they were put on an allowance, by which they were kept from distress. A somewhat similar system existed among the carpet weavers and paper-makers of Kidderminster, but it was not nearly so perfect as the one to which he had already alluded. When these persons were out of work, they had travelling tickets given them, which entitled them to receive a small sum in every town they passed through, on condition that they did not appear there again for three months; and on coming to London they got 5s. with a bed for two nights, and two pots of porter. But no others of the manufacturing classes had any such provision, and in the event of being out of work they were left entirely destitute. In addition to this, the way in which things were managed, when the trade was bad, was highly disadvantageous to them The price of their labour was lessened, and the quantity of work increased in proportion; the effect of which was, that the manufacturer extended his labour from twelve to sixteen hours a day, in the hopes of increasing his pittance, from which circumstance more was produced, the market soon became overstocked, and the low prices were confirmed for a much longer period of time. An instance of this might be seen in the manufacturers of Wolverhampton, who worked sixteen hours in the day, and only obtained the merest pittance. To so great an extent was this the case, that he had been told that excellent currycombs were sold there for a penny a-piece. In conclusion, the hon. Member observed that it would be prudent, as well as wise, for the House to extend its care to the classes he had mentioned. They were the sources of our power, and would yet be a mine of wealth to the country, if they could only be brought to employ that forethought which raised the middle classes so high in the social scale. He would trouble the House with but one observation more, and that related to the effects of intelligence in making the workmen obedient. He had consulted several manufacturers on this subject, and he had received the same testimony from them all; in particular he had the authority of Mr. Kirkman Finlay, whose experience was perhaps equal to that of any man—he had his authority to assert, that just in proportion as the condition of the workmen was improved—just in proportion as they became possessed of knowledge and of facilities for obtaining information—just in proportion as they acquired habits of forethought and prudence—just in that proportion had he and other manufacturers found them tractable, obedient, and industrious. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed for considering means to lessen the evils arising from the Fluctuation of Employment in Manufacturing Districts, and to improve the health and comfort of the Working Classes dwelling in large Towns."

Mr. Marshall

seconded the Motion. He did not anticipate all the benefits from it that his hon. friend expected, but he thought at least that some valuable information might be obtained. He was happy to say, that the average wages of workmen in the manufacturing districts were now as great as at any former period, and that, on the whole, their condition was very much improved.

Mr. Cripps

said, he did not mean to enter into the subject at any length, and he should detain the House but a very few minutes by his observations. He did not rise to throw cold water on the hon. Member's Motion, but to guard the House against supposing that the plan of the hon. Member would be as advantageous as he supposed. He admitted readily, that nothing was more beneficial to the working classes than Benefit Societies, and he could say that he had, on many occasions, witnessed the advantages they had conferred on the members of them. But the House was aware that many benefit societies had been destroyed, by not acting on the recommendations of an hon. Member below him, in becoming enrolled. When the hon. Member, however, assumed that the House might look to the extension of the principle of such societies, to equalise the fluctuations in trade, he was afraid that the difficulties would be far greater than the hon. Member expected. He wished that the committee might find men with an amount of earnings sufficient to subscribe to such funds. The hon. Member had stated correctly the earnings of several classes of workmen, but they seemed to him so moderate as to preclude the workmen from making those weekly allowances which were necessary to support a Benefit Society. At present the wages of workmen were extremely low, and it was impossible that out of their scanty earnings they could raise, by weekly subscriptions, a fund to support their brethren who might be out of employment. The amount necessary for that could hardly be calculated, but it would certainly be beyond their means. The hon. Member had alluded to the southern counties of England, but he could not be blind to the difference between them and the northern counties. He could not suppose, looking at the situation of the people in the southern counties since 1825, that it would at anytime have been possible for the workmen to club 6d. a-week for the support of their fellows out of employment. All that the workmen in employment could contribute would be only a drop in the bucket to support the workmen out of employment. If 10,000 or 12,000 men were out of employment in one district, what could the club do? If indeed the workmen were capable of supporting themselves, they might make themselves independent of their employers. This, according to the information laid before the House, already happened with the tailors. They earned more money than any other class of workmen. No people had such high wages. They could afford to subsist each other when out of work; and what was the consequence? Why they did subscribe; not, however, to keep tailors from the parish, but to get what they called sufficient wages for themselves. In guarding against one evil it was necessary not to run foul of another. Suppose that wages were so high as to enable the workmen to support each other in idleness if they did not choose to work for a season, or if they would not work unless they received 4s. or 5s. a-day, could that be considered an advantage? They might employ their funds to keep up wages, not to prevent fluctuations. He could not say that it would be desirable to have Friendly Societies with such an object in view. He had no doubt that the hon. Member intended to do good—he gave him credit for his motives, but there were so many difficulties belonging to the subject, that he was not warranted in expecting so many advantages from his proposed committee.

Mr. Robinson

only rose to say a word on a subject connected with the town which he represented. The hon. Member stated the quantity of gloves before and subsequent to the change in our commercial policy, when the prohibition to import gloves was removed. The hon. Member had stated that more gloves were made since than before. He wished to know whence he obtained his information. There were statements laid on the Table which informed the House what quantity of gloves was imported or exported, but he did not know how the hon. Member could have ascertained what quantity was made. He wished to be informed how that information was obtained. The hon. Member had stated, that it was fair play to the glove-trade to let in foreign-made gloves. He could understand that it might be expedient, that it might be good policy, but -he could not understand how it was fair play. He could not understand why the glove-trade was to be estimated by the quantities made, and other trades were to be estimated by the price of their produce. If the principles of Free Trade were to be acted on, why were they not extended to corn as well as gloves? But the corn-grower was protected, so as to obtain a good price for his commodity; it was considered sufficient for the glove-maker that he made a great many pairs of gloves. Other interests were estimated by quantities. The corn-grower was protected by price. He could account for the increase in the quantity of gloves made; it was owing to their cheapness. Gentlemen now probably wore two pairs of gloves when formerly one pair was thought sufficient. But that fall of price, which was advantageous to the wearer, came out of the profits of the manufacturer and the wages of the labourer. He knew that the hon. Member had been at Worcester, and he had no doubt that he had taken great pains to obtain correct information; but he was afraid that the hon. Member had got his information concerning the glove-trade from the factors and dealers in gloves, and not from the manufacturers. They had an interest in selling a great many. He believed that the information concerning the silk-trade had been derived from the same class of persons. That accounted, too, for some of the discordant statements made to that House—some of them being derived from the factors, and others from the manufacturers. The factors stated that the trade was flourishing, while the manufacturers, who had a different interest he admitted, stated that the trade was not paying them. He did not mean to enter further into the subject, but thought it necessary to say so much with a view of obtaining the information he desired from the hon. Member.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he entertained some doubts as to the utility of the results of appointing the proposed committee. His doubts were as to the advantages of the hon. Member's plans, but he supposed the committee might be a means of obtaining some very useful information, and with that view he should not oppose the Motion. He could not hope that the object of the hon. Member would be accomplished, but he hoped to obtain through the committee some valuable information. In admitting the advantages of Benefit Societies, he had some doubts whether they could be so extended—which was what, he believed, the hon. Member meant—as to meet all the fluctuations in trade. That was an object he was afraid it was not possible to obtain. As far as these societies were now constituted, they were intended to assure individuals, by small subscriptions, when they had any superfluous money, against periods of difficulty and distress, which might be a matter of accurate calculation. It was possible to calculate the average quantity of sickness and distress among a number of persons within a given time, and such calculations were accurately made; and then it was possible to calculate the average payments which would provide against these casualties, and preserve the funds of the society. To apply these principles to the fluctuations of trade, and call on the labourers to contribute small sums when they were fully employed, so that they might be maintained when they were not employed, was, he was afraid, not possible, because these fluctuations were not susceptible of calculation. The calculation of probabilities could be applied to Friendly Societies; the principles on which these calculations were founded were invariable; but that could not be said of trade. Another difficulty was, that Friendly Societies being intended to provide against sickness, the assistance they supplied was limited to parties actually needing it; but that principle could not be applied to the fluctuations of trade. Perhaps the hon. Member's system might be applied if the great majority of manufacturers were situated together, so that the deficiencies or want of work in one might be compensated by much employment in another. But it was well known that our different manufactures were limited to different places, and were not mingled together so that the superfluous funds in one might supply the want of employment when it occurred in another. The fluctuations operated on all the persons engaged in the same trade at the same time, and generally involved so great a number in distress, that it would be impossible to provide for them by the means proposed by the hon. Member. Another difficulty, he believed, would be found to arise from the impossibility of telling whether individuals were unwilling to work, and idle, or could not get employment from the fluctuations of trade. The hon. Gentleman would have many difficulties to encounter, and some evils to provide against, which he was afraid would render his wishes abortive. As he felt anxious, however, to elicit any information which could be obtained concerning the manufacturing classes—though, on considering the subject, he did not expect such a favourable result as the hon. Member expected—he should not oppose the appointment of the committee.

Sir George Phillips

said, that though he could not hope to obtain the same advantages from the committee as the hon. Mover, he did not mean to oppose the Motion; but at the same time he looked upon Savings Banks as more likely to be beneficial to the working classes than Benefit Societies. What they could place in the Savings Banks they could at all times look on as their own; it belonged to themselves, and they were encouraged by that consideration to take care of it. He was happy to confirm the statement of the hon. member for the county of York (Mr. Marshall), that the people employed in factories—and there was a general tendency to employ all the manufacturers in factories—were much better off than those not employed in factories. He believed, too, that he might state that the workmen employed in factories were a great deal better off than workmen were thirty or forty years ago. Owing to the great quantity of machinery now employed in our manufactures, the workmen were continually employed, for the necessity of keeping the machinery at work compelled the manufacturer to employ his men. At present he believed too that the workmen were generally employed at full wages. The hon. Gentleman opposite said, that it was impossible that the men in the manufacturing districts could contribute anything to such a fund; but at present he believed the manufacturers were not in so bad a condition as the hon. Member supposed. He had visited Lancashire during the holidays, and had learned, both from observation and information, that wages there had lately risen, and that few persons were out of employment.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, that the House appeared fond of meddling with what did not concern it, and of neglecting what it ought to perform; it would not grant a committee to inquire into the distress which was complained of in so many petitions; and as the House would not inquire into the truth of the allegations in these petitions, he should look on a committee appointed on this Motion as a mere delusion. It could lead to no good whatever.

Mr. Slaney, in reply, said his account respecting the gloves was derived from Returns of the quantity made, His only intention was, to extend the advantages of Benefit Societies, so that workmen might be enabled to provide against the fluctuations of trade. The right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in what he said of the trades not being mingled together in one town. In Sheffield, Birmingham, and other large towns, a great many different trades were congregated together, and it rarely happened that they were all depressed at the same time. If one was depressed another was flourishing. It was said, when Benefit Societies were established, that the scheme was Utopian; but at present they numbered upwards of 1,000,000 members. When Savings Banks were first thought of, it was said they never could answer, but at present there were 16,000,000l. invested in them. When he saw these encouraging facts before him, when he recollected from what small beginnings these two things had grown up, he could not doubt but that the principle of Benefit Societies might be extended, and provide for those fluctuations in trade which caused such great distress.

Committee appointed.

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